[Taxacom] Heritage biodiversity

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Fri Jul 21 15:42:22 CDT 2006

In my view, the ultimate value of biodiversity is information: the world's
greatest library filled with incredibly powerful and useful information
concerning history, medicine, energy management, defense ... information
focused, in a word, on survival.  What makes this information so valuable is
that it has been written, edited, re-written and fine-tuned over literally
billions of years. We are like kindergarteners wandering the aisles of the
Library of Congress.  Only as our ability to decipher the content of genome
increases, will we begin to appreciate the true value of that information.

Losing the last individual of a species is like losing the last copy of a
book.  The information content of some books is highly redundant with other,
similar books (e.g., books on how to create a web page); though each may
have it's own little uniquenesses, the bulk of meaningful information is
available through many different (but similar) books.  Other kinds of
"books" -- like the Dead Sea Scrolls -- have comparatively little shared
information with other books, and their loss would mean the loss of a great
deal of irreplacable information.

I think the analogy with species holds true:  The genome of a Coelacanth
likely holds more bits of information not replicated in other species than,
say, any particular cichlid.  How badly Ken would like just a few pages from
the "book" of trilobite. Thus, I think there is a real justification for
affording more protection to evolutionarily "lonely" species, due to the
average uniqueness of information contained within their genomes.

Off to the airport...no email for 10 days.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu 
> [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Bob Mesibov
> Sent: Thursday, July 20, 2006 4:00 PM
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Heritage biodiversity
> Pierre Deleporte is certainly correct in saying that some 
> species are favoured for conservation for "intuitive" reasons 
> which are not always clearly stated. Because different people 
> have different ways of valuing biodiversity, there will 
> always be disagreement about which species should have 
> conservation priority. I fully agree with Pierre (and others) 
> that the most realistic approach is to conserve as many 
> different landscapes in as many different places as possible, 
> and that species-level conservation (with its disagreements) 
> should only complement this broader aim.
> Getting back to Arthur Chapman's posts, the following rather 
> terrifying quote is from Witte, J.P.M. 1998. National Water 
> Management and the Value of Nature. Doctoral thesis, 
> Wageningen Agricultural University, Netherlands (ISBN 
> 90-5485-831-1), p. 153:
> "Anyone who has ever joined a field trip of biologists knows 
> how nature is generally valued: on the basis of rarity. 
> During field trips it is quite common to see a biologist 
> kneel to the ground, searching for some rare plant... 
> Botanists uprooting some rare plant species even justify 
> their action with the phrase: 'whatever is rare should remain 
> rare'. In other words, it does not matter if one individual 
> disappears, because the value of the remaining individuals 
> will increase and, with that, the _total_ value of the 
> _species_ remains unaltered."
> Witte noted how the conservation value of individual species 
> in the Netherlands could change in a short time as the 
> species became more or less widespread and abundant, which is 
> another reason he equates rarity and value. (For an excellent 
> article on the objective measurement of rarity, see e.g. 
> Witte, J.-P. M. and Torfs, J. J. F. 2003. Scale dependency 
> and fractal dimension of rarity.  Ecography 26: 60-68.)
> On 8 June 2006, Nature published a report on the rediscovery 
> of a California millipede, Illacme plenipes, with the largest 
> known number of legs. The news was widely circulated in the 
> popular science media because the high number of legs makes 
> this species _exceptional_. The rediscoverers, however, say 
> "Because of the rarity and narrow geographical range of this 
> delicate species, its fragile habitat must be protected at 
> all costs." The re-collection locality was generalised to 
> "San Benito County".
> Without going into details, the authors also mentioned that 
> the taxon to which I. plenipes belongs, Siphonorhinidae, is 
> special: it consists of a few monotypic genera with disjunct 
> distributions. Thus the conservation value of this species 
> has at least 4 elements: it's morphologically unusual, it's 
> geographically restricted, it's very hard to find (rare in 
> the abundance
> sense) and it's phylogenetically isolated.
> Thus I. plenipes is a model species for complementing 
> landscape conservation, as Pierre Deleporte suggests. 
> Unfortunately it suffers a crippling disadvantage in the 
> global conservation race. It's an invertebrate.
> ---
> Dr Robert Mesibov
> Honorary Research Associate, Queen Victoria Museum and Art 
> Gallery and School of Zoology, University of Tasmania Home 
> contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
> (03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
> Tasmanian Multipedes
> http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/zoology/multipedes/mulintro.html
> Spatial data basics for Tasmania
> http://www.geog.utas.edu.au/censis/locations/index.html
> ---
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